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Christmas at Mayo Clinic

12/31/2013 3:34:00 PM

Tags: Tumor, Seizures, Surgery, Mayo Clinic, Christmas Spirit, Mary Conley

Mary ConleyMy story starts in 1969 when our oldest son, Perry, had a seizure on his right side in first grade. This happens to children sometimes, nothing to worry about, and he was put on medication. He did so well that after two years, the doctor said he should be able to go medicine free after his next six-month checkup. Then it happened. The seizures resumed and continued with such frequency,- that he needed too much medicine to keep them in check. When I look at pictures of him during that time, with dazed eyes, it just makes me cry.

It is probably hard for you to imagine a time when Perry’s needed medical equipment, that we now take for granted but complain about the cost, was not available. I sometimes think about how different Perry’s life would be if they could have caught the tumor early, but of course, we can’t go back in time. Finally, we asked our doctor to call Mayo Clinic. I was in the hospital giving birth to our fourth child when we received notice that Perry was accepted, and he and his daddy drove there in early December.

Dye was again injected into Perry’s arteries, but this time the tumor had grown enough to move a large blood vessel out of place, and he was diagnosed. The tumor was removed, but there were still what we call “feelers or roots” left in his brain. Later, he would need around 30 cobalt treatments in hopes to destroy those.

I received the news of the surgery and soon left our month-old nursing baby and two other children at home and flew to be with them. If you have to go to Mayo Clinic, the month of December has its benefits. Although we had the heartbreak of the unknown prognosis, we continued on like zombies doing our Christmas shopping in between the 15-minutes-every-four-hours-visits, we were allowed in intensive care. 

The Christmas spirit of the place was hard to ignore when beautiful Christmas music was playing, and the many decorations which included a donated elaborate gingerbread house. There were visits from celebrities bringing gifts, and a Christmas party put on by the staff that Perry was able to attend. I have a mental picture of a large room full of children in all kinds of conditions. Many arrived in wheelchairs or beds, and I saw the same myriad emotions that I felt in their parent's faces. I don't seem to have the words to fit the feelings of such a contrasting time, but as I said, it was the Christmas we remember the most. Oh, and we made it home in time to put up a tree and celebrate as a family! Such a time is also when we discovered what friends and neighbors are made of – good stuff.

The tumor and surgery left Perry with a weakened right side, so he walks with a slight limp and basically became left handed. Medication drags him down somewhat, but controls his right side seizures. Later in life, after years of riding his bicycle everywhere, he was allowed to drive. You can believe it was a big day when he bought his first car!

Perry is 51, now. We could write a book on his and our struggles and victories over the years, and he is a trooper. His prognosis was so iffy, such as the one I cried about (his hair might not grow back!) and the fact that he might be retarded after all the cobalt treatments. I’ll skip all the trials and just say he has hair and two master’s degrees. He teaches at Boy’s Town in Omaha Nebraska, mostly tutoring high school youth how to read, and is a wonderful uncle to nine, and a real encourager to many young people.


Perry, age 51.  A real encourager to people, young and old. 

We just had a wonderful family Christmas as we have grown to 18 members, but Larry and I will always remember the one at Mayo Clinic.

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1/6/2014 2:22:44 PM
Perry, thank you so much for commenting on your story. I was certainly moved when I read it in your mother's words, but when it comes from your perspective, I don't know, maybe it just feels more real, more raw, more miraculous. I feel truly inspired by your words. Imagine what the world would be like if we could all learn the valuable lesson you did. Do we all need to go through such trauma to get there? I certainly hope not, but it seems, at least according to my own experience, that suffering does have a lot to do with learning to care for and help others. Regardless of how you arrived there, you certainly lead a life worthy of the extra time you were given. Thanks again for sharing! :)

1/4/2014 2:46:52 PM
This is a about me! Good news. Bad news. Dr. Moore's test results indicated that I had a brain tumor requiring surgery. While the doctors set a date for the brain surgery, dad and mom made funeral arrangements; probability was high that I would not live through surgery.. The room spun around me as I struggled to regain consciousness in the recovery room after surgery. I slowly recognized the figures and muffled voices of dad, mom, and Dr. Moore. The doctors had removed a baseball-sized malignant tumor from the left part of my brain that controlled my right arm, leg, foot, and some of my speech. I had come through surgery alive, but had little or no immediate use of my right side. It slowly dawned on me that many obstacles lay before me-obstacles that would shape my character and change the course of my life forever. “People with malignant brain tumors do not live more than six to nine months after surgery.” The words resounded in my mind as I left the doctor’s office in July 1980. A recent graduate of Burke High School, it was in those several minutes after all of my schooling that I learned the greatest lesson of my life. Although my baseball-sized brain tumor in fourth grade had been malignant, this tumor had been benign, and I could continue my college plans. This was secondary to the recognition that many people spent long hours investing in me and helping me overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. That support helped shape me into a person who sees needs, has patience, and a deep desire to help others. It was at this point that I began to reflect seriously on my life and saw each tough time as a bright dot. As those dots were connected, a really neat picture emerged. Now in my twenty-sixth year of teaching, I have been given the opportunity to teach Individualized Reading at a unique high school whose mission includes identifying at-risk students and their needs, pouring into each life to meet the needs, and literally saving students by helping them deal with and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They are provided a second chance. The tapestry of my life continues, this time interwoven with the lives of many hurting high school students who, like me, have been given a second chance at life; I love it. Mom, thanks for writing about this Christmas memory.

1/2/2014 11:09:46 AM
Thanks, BJA, Perry was here last night and I asked him to read the story. You never know how family is going to react when you write something - especially about them. However, he was very happy with it and was touched by the comments.

1/1/2014 8:50:20 PM
Thank you for sharing your story. It is indeed amazing! What a great blessing to see that Perry has become an inspirational adult who shares his experience, strength, and hope with others. Two advanced degrees are very impressive! Thank God for His intervention. Please share more stories about Perry and his recovery.

1/1/2014 12:22:48 PM
Dave, let us know when you are out this way as we live not far from Boy's Town, and we will take you out to lunch! 402-498-0516

1/1/2014 12:21:18 PM
Dear Jean, Pamela, & Dave, I just read your responses to Larry and they touched our hearts. It will be emotionally interesting to have Perry read my story and your responses. I had tears thinking, Dave, that you would be passing Boy's Town with a new thought - Perry works there!

Pamela Tinnin
1/1/2014 12:00:07 PM
Mary, thank you for this touching story. We must be about the same age - my oldest child is 48. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I have a daughter that age, but then I remember that I have six grandchildren from 10months to 21 years and my first great-grandchild just turned one-year-old. Again, thank you for reminding us that even in hard times, we may eventually find blessings. You write so well and it's from the heart which is my favorite kind. Also, Happy New Year! Pam Tinnin

1/1/2014 10:14:00 AM
Mary, what an awesome Christmas story. I can't begin to know or understand the heart break of having to live through a dramatic event such the one you describe. It's so wonderful that your son came through it and has been able to live a life of encouragement to others who are being challenged. I pass by Boy's Town several times a week through out my city travels. I'll be remembering this post and sending a blessing his way every time I pass from now on. It's really a Christmas miracle story, don't you know. I hope that you will get to tell this story many more years about the miracle that happened in Minnesota. Have a great New Year day.

1/1/2014 9:45:01 AM
Mary, thanks for sharing your story. It sure helps to put the little things in life that we all complain about into perspective. Perry is indeed a wonderful man, along with the rest of his family! Happy New Year to you all!

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